You may have been put off reading about krill oil benefits due to krill oil’s image as a PMS curing supplement (it has been shown to be very effective for this)(1). But Krill oil is beginning to be marketed as a crucial supplement for sportsmen and trainers that will supposedly make fish oil obsolete…
Given the limited amount of research so far done on krill oil benefits, coupled with the fact that it is much more expensive, I do not recommend swapping your fish oil supplement for krill oil (yet)…
Krill oil might live up to its (huge) reputation as a health supplement, although more research and trials are needed to confirm this:
-One of krill oil benefits is that it could really improve your cholesterol profile.
-Krill oil can battle against free radical damage with its superb antioxidants- therefore it could reduce cancer risks and slow the rate of aging!
-Krill oil has been shown to improve mental health disorders and slow the natural rate of cogitative decline.
-Krill oil has been shown to be very effective at improving the symptoms of PMS.
However, as a sports and muscle building supplement it generally just doesn’t deliver the goods:
-Krill oil benefits inflammatory issues such as joint pain and arthritis, which could help your training and improve your quality of life.
-Krill oil benefits do not include helping you to lose much fat, if any at all.
-Krill oil will not help you gain muscle.
-Krill oil will not make any significant difference to training motivation.
Very short summary of what EFAs are and why we might want to supplement them
If you’ve been involved in bodybuilding or interested in nutrition for any length of time you will have been showered with lists of the benefits of EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) supplementation, from cutting heart attack risks to promoting healthy skin.
I won’t bore you with any more of these, but we need to take a quick look at what EFAs are and what they do in order to work out whether or not we should start taking krill oil:
As the name suggests EFAs are types of fat which the body cannot manufacture and so must be supplied by the diet. Every cell in the body is encircled within a membrane of billions of fatty acids – EFAs form a constituent of this cell membrane. About half of these fatty acids are saturated and monounsaturated and about half are polyunsaturated, mostly EFAs. The saturated and monounsaturated fats provide stability and the EFAs provide flexibility and play a part in a number of biochemical processes.
We need EFAs to make prostaglandins, local tissue hormones, that help to control inflammation and blood clotting (as well as performing a whole host of other bodily functions).
EFAs are found in almost all natural foods but nuts and seeds are the main natural sources of omega 6 fatty acids, whilst fish, eggs, organ meats and organic green vegetables are good sources of omega 3.Modern processing methods have reduced the levels of undamaged EFAs we get in our diet making supplementation more necessary now than in the past.
There are numerous studies showing that a large imbalance between omega 3 and 6 (as is found in most modern people’s diets) is the cause of many chronic health problems. There are also a load of studies showing that large amounts of EFAs, even in a good ratio, causes problems too. Eating too many EFAs could increase your chances of getting cancer, weaken your immune system and predispose you to premature aging – unfortunately many bodybuilding and nutrition gurus are encouraging us to consume too many EFAs.
[For accurate and useful information on Fats and Oils I recommend you scan through the Weston Price website (www.westonprice.org) or read ‘Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol’ by Mary Enig PhD.]
OK, with that out of the way, let’s look at krill oil…
Neptune(2) Krill Oil is an anti inflammatory food that will relieve joint pain!
Dr. William Wong, ND, PHD, writes: ‘What thing inherent to hard training in either conditioning or a sports skill can slow down your progress, cause loss of muscle mass, increase in body fat, decrease your level of testosterone and increase your estrogen? Answer: Inflammation.’(3)
We all know that weight lifting, training, playing contact sports etc. makes us especially prone to joint and inflammatory issues.
Although Krill oil is a fairly new marine oil supplement, already a number of studies have confirmed that krill oil benefits athletes suffering inflammatory issues:
Take a look at this study by a Canadian research team in 2007(4) ‘to evaluate the effect of Neptune Krill Oil (NKO) on C-reactive protein (CRP) on patients with chronic inflammation and to evaluate the effectiveness of NKO on arthritic symptoms.’
Side note: CRP = C-reactive Protein: This is an important marker of inflammation within the body and is considered more important than cholesterol levels in predicting the likelihood of a heart attack!(5)
300 mg of Krill oil was given to 900 participants with a confirmed diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and/or rheumatoid arthritis and/or osteoarthritis with increased levels of CRP (>1.0 mg/dl).
The results are pretty staggering:
‘After 7 days of treatment NKO reduced CRP by 19.3% compared to an increase by 15.7% observed in the placebo group (p = 0.049). After 14 and 30 days of treatment NKO further decreased CRP by 29.7% and 30.9% respectively (p < 0.001). The CRP levels of the placebo group increased to 32.1% after 14 days and then decreased to 25.1% at day 30. The between group difference was statistically significant; p = 0.004 at day 14 and p = 0.008 at day 30.’
These are serious improvements!
But it gets better – All you athletes out there with sore bodies and stiff joints look at these results:
‘After 7 days of treatment, NKO reduced pain scores by 28.9% (p = 0.050), reduced stiffness by 20.3% (p = 0.001) and reduced functional impairment by 22.8% (p = 0.008).’
While too great a limitation of inflammation may hamper, not help, your muscle gains, if you suffer from the above problems then you should seriously consider taking krill oil as it will allow you to recover more quickly and train harder – you obviously can’t gain muscle if you’re too sore to hit the gym!
Side note: A friend of mine who suffers from a really dodgy shoulder said that taking 600mg per day greatly reduced the soreness, but that it took about 2 weeks for the effects to become truly noticeable. (This is in line with other anecdotal reports I’ve heard and read.)
Lower dosage needed and better long term safety
We don’t need massively high doses of EFAs, and too many can cause health problems.
One potential problem of taking therapeutic levels of fish oil is that omega 3 fats, due to being highly unsaturated, tend to increase lipid peroxidation in the body(6) thereby causing free radical damage.
There’s evidence to support the notion that taking antioxidants at the same time as omega 3 oils may deal with this problem(7).
Cod liver oil, unlike salmon oil, does not raise lipid peroxidation levels probably because it is rich in vitamin a and vitamin d, both of which act as potent antioxidants(8) (salmon oil does not contain these).
One of Krill oil’s benefits is that it, unlike cod liver oil, only contains trace amounts of vitamin d but does contain an abundance of antioxidants including vitamins A and E and the powerful marine antioxidants canthaxanthin and astaxanthin.
Joseph Mercola, a popular natural health author, writes ‘Astaxanthin is a natural carotenoid-type of antioxidant that is even more powerful than beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, lycopene and lutein.’
In fact, Krill Oil has incredible antioxidant power: ‘The anti-oxidant potency of krill oil is such that when compared to fish oil in terms of ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorptance Capacity) values, it was found to be 48 times more potent than fish oil.’(9)
Due to the antioxidants it contains, it appears there is no risk of krill oil causing negative free radical damage in the body, and it looks like krill oil benefits your antioxidant status – this may help with issues such as premature aging and skin cancer risk.
If you want this increased antioxidant protection you should get krill oil rather than fish oil!
This also means that if krill oil benefits you, you can be confident that taking it on a long term basis is safe. For example, controlling inflammatory issues with krill oil would be much better than using pain killers for long periods. Krill oil is much better absorbed than fish oil so you can take a lower dosage.
The 300 mg used in the above arthritis study is a lot less than the amount of fish oil that top bodybuilding nutrition experts John Berardi and Charles Poliquin recommend (Berardi recommends at least 6 to 9 grams/ day of fish oil for fat loss)(10).
The reason behind krill oil being better absorbed than fish oil is to do with the phospholipids it contains:
The problem of increased lipid peroxidation caused by fish oil supplementation can be viewed as a result of the omega 3s being stored as free fatty acids in fish oils. In krill oil the omega 3s are bound within the phospholipids.
This structure of Krill oil means that the EFAs are delivered straight to the mitochondria and are incorporated into the cell membranes, where we want them, without having caused free radical damage.
The fats in our own cells are in phospholipid form, not triglyceride (free fatty acid) form, so it makes sense to supplement EFAs in this form too.
This better delivery mechanism of the EFAs is probably an important reason why krill oil benefits participants better in trials for PMS and blood lipid control than fish oil does.(11)
Evidence of superior absorption is that rarely do you hear of someone experiencing fishy burps or stomach upset from krill oil, even from large doses.
More stable than fish oil:
An important one of krill oil benefits is that, due to the above factors, it is definitely more stable than the fish oil supplement, such as Flame Out, that you’re probably currently taking.
Supplement Company claims that krill oil will remain stable without refrigeration for two years seem to be trustworthy. This increased stability of krill oil over fish oil is important as rancid oils are very bad for you generally and won’t work as you want them to – Taking a rancid EFA supplement is a very big waste of money!
Krill oil benefits over fish oil summary: Smaller capsules, less to swallow, less chance of fishy burps or stomach upset, less chance of rancidity problems. Sounds good!
Fish Oil for fat loss?
It’s impossible to discuss whether Krill oil benefits include fat loss without first looking at how effectively fish oil helps you burn off fat:
I often hear fish oil described as being ‘an essential supplement for fat loss’ – this is just not true.
If you eat slightly less one day, lift a couple of weights and go for a short run you’ll be well on the way to losing fat without taking any supplements at all. Lifestyle factors like these will always be much more important than taking any oil in terms of burning off fat.
That being said, there are studies that show inclusion of essential fats in the diet does help to burn fat. Having reviewed a lot of these studies it’s clear you will certainly not experience any dramatic fat losses solely by the inclusion of EFAs.
If you substituted equal calories of fish oil for carbs. or processed vegetable oils then you could potentially lose weight.
Whilst these fat loss studies, which are generally pretty flawed anyway(12), show that ensuring adequate EFA status helps with weight loss and body composition, the results do not suggest that more is better for fat loss(13).
It is important to consider that even the studies showing positive results for fish oil only show minor losses of fat i.e. a couple of kilos here or there.
Krill oil benefits you more?
I’m sorry to report that at this stage there have been no studies suggesting Krill Oil benefits you more than regular fish oil when trying to lose weight. Like fish oil, it may slightly help fat loss by giving the body the EFAs it needs, and these are probably better absorbed from krill oil than fish oil.
Bottom line here is that if you’re buying fish oil or krill oil and expecting them to visibly melt away fat then you are going to be very disappointed. The only difference with krill oil is that you will have paid more for the disappointment!
If you’re buying krill oil for health reasons, and it works, then you may be pleasantly surprised after a couple of months to find yourself slightly leaner.
Will krill oil help you gain muscle mass?
There is no research whatsoever vindicating claims that Krill oil benefits bodybuilders looking to increase muscle mass!
Again, since Krill oil is a new EFA supplement, lets take a brief look at fish oil in terms of building muscle (this won’t take long!):
Despite being included as a supplement on almost every muscle building diet you will find, there is literally no research supporting fish oil as a muscle building supplement! (There have been studies done to try to prove this by the way).
It goes without saying that no studies have been done on possible krill oil benefits for muscle mass gain.
Whether or not fish oil actually helps or hinders muscle gain is an interesting theoretical question (at least I find it interesting!). From studies done and anecdotal experience, we can safely assume that including marine oils in your diet won’t be a major factor either way, but here are some interesting thoughts to consider anyway:
Side bar: Ways in which EFA supplements like Krill oil benefits or hinders muscle gain:
1) Fish oils notably reduced Testosterone levels in a recent study(14), whereas saturated and monounsaturated fats did not – you know that low T levels will hurt muscle gain. But the study also showed that fish oils cut estrogen levels – high estrogen levels can limit muscle gain. (If you want to control estrogen and balance your hormones try maca).
2) Due to their anti-inflammatory nature Fish oils have been shown to reduce production of certain macrophages that are crucial to muscle repair and growth. However, this is just theory and we know that some very muscular people take fish oil.
3) Fish oil and Krill oil appear to enhance ATP (Adrenaline Tri-Phosphate) production (through the electron transport chain). They also convert homocystein to cysteine (cysteine being both necessary for cystein-iron centers in the mitochondria as well as glutathione production). High ATP and Glutathione amplify Arachidonic acid¡¦s anabolic effects in muscle. – This is getting overly technical but, if true, it means fish or krill oil could help a little.
4) From a practical perspective, if you increase your EFA supplement as a percentage of your calories you are probably substituting it for a percentage of the saturated or monounsaturated fats in your diet. These types of fat have been shown repeatedly to increase T levels and are very important in building muscle – don’t cut these to accommodate more omega 3 fats!
5) Obviously if you add a load of calories in the form of EFAs you set the stage for mass gain, but these calories could come from any source really. Omega 3 fats are less likely to turn to fat than carbs though so you would probably make leaner gains.
(More on how fish oils affect muscle growth in future articles)
A few sports writers have thickened out their extremely pro krill oil articles by suggesting it will dramatically improve your motivation to train hard.
The basis for these claims lies in two properties of Krill oil:
1) EPA and DHA have been vindicated in double randomised, controlled studies to be very important to mental health. Combinations of these two EFAs have been shown to help with autism, dyslexia, dysplaxia, aggressive behaviour and A.D.D and, according to a 2007 study, low levels of EPA and DHA are associated with accelerated cognitive decline.
2) The phosphocholine in Krill Oil becomes part of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine. The fuss made about this in the sporting world came as Dr. Michael Colgan described acetylcholine as creating an ‘Anabolic Drive’(15).
Now, although the term ‘anabolic drive’ is a bit cheesy, it is correct to point out that, like other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, choline is important to having a positive mental outlook – so at a stretch it may increase your motivation…
… But honestly, this is a marketing con!
I hope you are all still awake enough to realise that this is going to have an extremely minimal affect on whether you get off your butt and go to the gym or whether you want to keep training for another fifteen minutes etc.
There are a whole host of reasons why articles claiming that choline in krill oil benefits you by increasing training motivation should make you cringe:
– Even if it did slightly help you to get up and go to the gym, you would not want to pay the price that krill oil currently is sold at for the small amount of choline it contains. Why not just buy it in pill form or get it from foods?
– How are choline’s effects going to measure up to workout aids such as caffeine? I would suggest that a pre workout cup of coffee will do a hell of a lot more for your workout performance than a couple of krill oil capsules.
– Finally, you are advised to consume 300mg of choline per day to give you this ‘anabolic drive’.
You are probably already consuming way more than this if you eat a nutritious diet. For example soybeans, egg yolks and butter contain a lot of choline; and peanuts, potatoes, cauliflower, lentils, oats, sesame seeds and flax seeds are good sources.
Have you noticed being more motivated to train when you eat 3 eggs for breakfast rather than two? NO!
To further put things into perspective, two tablespoons of Soya Lecithin contains around 550 mg of choline, whilst if you took 500 mg (more than used in the arthritis study) of krill oil per day you would get around 36 mgs.
So, why isn’t there a load of hype about soya lecithin, or even choline capsules, for bodybuilding? The answer is that, whilst it is good for you, choline won’t affect your training performance remotely.
Side note: If you want to try choline then don’t buy krill oil to do this, either get it in pill form or eat foods containing it. (Egg yolks and soya lecithin provide a lot more than just choline by the way…)
So I think we’ve covered why krill oil benefits do not include improving body composition or raising sports or training performance, but let’s end by looking at some more promising krill oil benefits:
A 2003 study found that krill oil benefits women to a greater degree in the management of PMS and Dysmenorrhea than ordinary fish oil(16).
Over the 3-month study, a statistically significant improvement was found within the Neptune Krill oil group. There was a significant reduction in the number of analgesics used for Dysmenorrhea (severely painful cramps) within the krill oil group, whereas those who were consuming regular fish oil showed far less improvement.
The study concluded: ‘Neptune Krill Oil can significantly reduce dysmenorrhea and the emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and is shown to be significantly more effective for the complete management of premenstrual symptoms compared to omega-3 fish oil.’
There have been a fair number of more recent studies confirming krill oil benefits for PMS!
Krill oil benefits cholesterol ratios and successfully manages hyperlipidemia:
A number of studies have shown krill oil benefits you by improving your cholesterol profile and improving blood lipid regulation. Placed head to head with fish oil, krill oil benefits you to a much greater degree.
These are the conclusions drawn from a well formulated 2004 study:
Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is a major health problem in the Western world, with CAD being the leading cause of mortality in the United States. Extensive observational epidemiologic data strongly associate high CAD risk to elevated total and LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol. Extensive clinical trial evidence has established that favorably altering dyslipidemias produces clear improvements in CAD end points. (15-17)
The results of this clinical trial demonstrate that taking daily doses of 1-3 g krill oil benefits you much more than taking 3 g EPA/DHA fish oil in the management of hyperlipidemia. Furthermore, a maintenance dose of 500 mg krill oil benefits you significantly in long-term regulation of blood lipids.
The unique molecular composition of krill oil, which is rich in phospholipids, omega3 fatty acids, and diverse antioxidants, surpasses the profile of fish oils and offers a superior approach toward the reduction of risk for cardiovascular disease.(17)
Other studies have confirmed these impressive results!
There you have it, all you need to know about krill oil. Research is being done on Krill Oil benefits all the time so keep an eye out for new information.
If you’ve found that krill oil benefits you in any way please let me know. If you try it and experience physique or training improvements please let me know as well and I might start taking it!
Generally though, if you’re taking krill oil to burn fat or build muscle it’s highly likely you could be better spending your money!
Ed Clements is a fitness and health writer who offers advice to men and women explaining how to optimise hormone balance through diet, training, lifestyle improvement and through intelligent supplementation.
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References and Footnotes
(2)Neptune Krill Oil is the premier type of krill oil you can buy currently.
(4)(Sciopsis Inc. Evidence Based NutraMedicine, 18 Corso Court, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4S 1H4, CANADA. firstname.lastname@example.org)
(12)Problems with these articles include: Small sample sizes, short study durations, statistically insignificant results, lack of randomization, no control groups, imprecise body composition testing, measurement errors, self-reporting of food intake, low compliance control and fish industry or supplement industry-sponsored bias.
(13)Couet C. Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. Int J Obes. 21: 637-643. 1997
(14)Nutr Cancer. 2000;38(2):163-7. Related Articles, Links Relationships between types of fat consumed and serum estrogen and androgen concentrations in Japanese men.
(15)”Optimum Sports Nutrition” By Dr. Michael Colgan. Advanced Research Press, New York, 1993, P365-392.
(17) Evaluation of the effects of Neptune krill oil on the clinical course of hyperlipidemia – Alternative Medicine Review, Dec, 2004 by Ruxandra Bunea, Khassan El Farrah, Luisa Deutsch
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